Exploring another culture: Steamboat Arts Academy puts on Dia de los Muertos celebration
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In planning Steamboat Arts Academy’s upcoming production, founder and artistic director Celina Taylor had a few goals that went beyond the stage.
“I wanted to educate the children about something not a lot of us really understand, and I wanted them to have the opportunity to give back to the community,” Taylor said.
Inspired by a previous group of theater students interested in the holiday Dia de los Muertos and by Integrated Community’s interest in new Dia de los Muertos celebration ideas, Taylor combined the elements into what would be her next show.
Steamboat Arts Academy’s A Dia de los Muertos Celebration is set for the evening of Friday, Nov. 1, at the Chief Theater.
It’s written, produced and directed entirely by the students in the show, age 3 to 16, who’ve been working on the project since August.
The group of about 60 kids began the planning process by scouring library books about Dia de los Muertos, writing down facts and absorbing the spirit of the lively Mexican holiday that remembers and celebrates the dead.
“It’s all about honoring where your family came from and being kind to people in your family,” Taylor said.
“I learned that we celebrate the people who’ve passed away by putting their pictures or foods, and all their favorite stuff, on a ofrenda, like a table,” said Hadley Spillane, 9, who plays two roles in the show. “It felt exciting, because I was learning more and getting all the information.”
Then academy students, in small groups, created a segment representing that spirit and their research, incorporating the acting, dance, music and comedy concepts they’ve been studying. One group wrote a play about the Aztecs and Spaniards; another, about Frida Kahlo. One group, composed of children who are learning English as a second language, wrote their piece to feature Spanish dialogue, and another group, composed of children for whom English is their first language, learned a song that they’ll perform in Spanish.
When: Doors/bar open at 6 p.m., show starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1
What: Steamboat Arts Academy presents A Dia de los Muertos Celebration
Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.
Tickets: $20 at chieftheater.com, benefitting Integrated Community and Piknik Theatre student scholarships
Beyond coming up with the concept of the segment, each group also wrote its own dialogue, designed its own choreography and made its own costumes.
“There was some guidance, but it’s fully created and imagined by (the kids),” Taylor said. “I try not to say ‘no.’ The only stipulation is that it makes logical sense.”
For children who are in the process of learning English as a second language — the show’s cast features about 10 — participating in theater can be especially helpful.
“When you’re learning to speak another language, you can be a little more reserved,” Taylor said. “When children go on stage with lines they’ve rehearsed, they can learn to speak with a little more confidence. You’re able to train your mind and body to do these things over and over, which builds a level of comfort, and you can embrace what you’re doing.”
“It’s hard to come to a different culture, a different language and a different country,” said Renzo Ramos, Integrated Community’s resource and referral/immigration coordinator. “(Theater) really helps them come out of their shell.”
Taylor notes that while there are local tutoring programs to help English language learners practice their English, most “feel like school.” Theater offers a different format and energy.
“It’s important to feel you have a voice in our community and sharing your voice can start on stage,” Taylor said.
Some of the lessons the show has taught go beyond the technicalities of words and language.
“Sometimes, there are things you can’t express through language, and that’s even harder when the language in your area is not your first,” Ramos said. “But through dance, theater and music, these kids are able to express themselves, and can get to know their new peers better.”
“Art helps us (communicate) when words fail us,” Taylor said. “I want all of us to learn how to embrace the things that make each of us unique, and to find ways to see ourselves and others. This show has taught SAA faculty and students that we’re all very similar in different ways.”
“It’s great to learn about other cultures and other beliefs,” Ramos said. “It enriches the Steamboat community.”
Ticket sales from the show will support Integrated Community and Piknik Theatre in arts programming and scholarships, so that more children can participate in more extracurricular arts programs. Taylor and academy students are aiming to raise $2,500 for the fund.
“These activities are so expensive,” Ramos said. “With scholarships, kids can experience (the classes) that so many other kids in the community are experiencing.”
The remaining budget of the show will also be donated to the fund, so the academy aimed to keep programming costs low. To contribute to the effort, the Chief donated the theater space, many academy families donated costumes that the students repurposed and students will contribute sweets for a bake sale alongside the show.
Following the show, the performers will throw a potluck, with each child contributing a dish honoring a deceased ancestor.
“They’ll have the chance to talk about their dish, why they chose it and why that person is special to them,” Taylor said.
Tickets to A Dia de los Muertos Celebration are available at chieftheater.com.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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